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Use Audience Personas to Connect & Convert (Case Study)

Nonprofit Audience Personas

Thanks to See3 for sharing this useful case study, originally published on the See3 blog.

Learn more: Create personas to bridge the gap with your target audiences

Many nonprofits fall into the trap of believing that their audience is the general public, when the truth is that your supporters are much more nuanced than that.  By putting together a comprehensive profile of your audience, your nonprofit is better able to create personalized content that speaks to your audience and drives them to action.

An excellent way to narrow in on your organization’s audience is to develop audience personas. Audience personas are imaginary people that you create who represent your audience, based on real aggregate audience data. Each persona has demographic information that helps make them real for the viewer, including things like age, race, gender and even a name.

Additionally, since these personas are created based on information about your real constituents, you already know things about them—like what they read, where they work, what they like to learn about from your organization and what kinds of communications work best for them.

Recently, See3 partnered with Make-A-Wish Foundation of America to help the organization better understand its audiences and develop an organization-wide content strategy.

With this project came the task of establishing personas that the organization could use in telling stories that attract and retain a strong base of volunteers, donors and wish referrers. Once we brought the personas to life, they were featured in print materials—including a deck of cards, posters, and a flip book—designed to keep Make-A-Wish’s audience top of mind for its communications team. 

We spoke to Jono Smith, the Director of Brand Marketing and Digital Strategy for Make-A-Wish America, to understand why the organization decided to invest in content strategy. Though our conversation, we identified three essential considerations for every nonprofit developing its content strategy: 

Nonprofit Audience Personas

1. Push your organization to start telling new stories.

When you think of Make-A-Wish, what’s the image that comes to mind? Most likely, it’s the idea of a sick kid experiencing hope and joy in the form of a wish experience, most likely through an incredible experience like a trip to Disney World or Hawaii. 

This story framework is powerful, and it’s one Make-A-Wish has been using for the past 35 years successfully. However, Make-A-Wish experiences impact more than just wish kids; they have significant effects on the families, doctors, social workers and volunteers who are involved. But those impact stories weren’t getting back to Make-A-Wish’s supporters, and they weren’t helping the organization convert new supporters who weren’t as affected by the organization’s traditional messaging.

“We discovered a significant lack of personalization and segmentation in our brand messaging and storytelling, and personas were our response to that,” Smith said.

To help Make-A-Wish diversify its storytelling, See3 created nine audience personas to represent current and potential volunteers, donors and wish referrers. All of these supporters play a critical role in Make-A-Wish’s mission to grant wishes to children living with life-altering illnesses, and they all experience the impact of Make-A-Wish differently. By considering these personas before developing stories, Make-A-Wish is more likely to tell stories that speak to these audience’s needs, challenges and goals. 

MakeaWish-Manuel

2. Put your audience first.

“Most modern marketing organizations in the for-profit and non-profit sector today utilize some form of audience personas,” Smith remarked. “It’s a proven technique and, if you’re going to compete for donors, a strong competitive advantage.”

With so many for-profits and nonprofits investing in audience personas, Make-A-Wish knew it was time for them to do the same. Taking an audience-centric approach is nothing new to the for-profit world, but it can be hard for nonprofits to make this switch.

As do-gooders, we often think that talking about our organization’s accomplishments and the important work that we’re doing should be enough to engage our supporters. But stories that focus on the nonprofit often fail to drive constituents to action. It’s important to think about how the content you are creating provides value for the people who support your organization. Make them the hero of your story and show them how their contributions are essential to the work you’re doing. 

Nonprofit Audience Personas

3. Get your team on board.

To make sure these personas are effectively implemented across all 60 Make-A-Wish chapters and other affiliates, the organization provided training on the value of personas and how to use them in their daily work. 

“The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Smith. “This is a long time in coming, and people are excited to start implementing them and learning more about how to utilize them in their communications.”

This persona portfolio is just the kickoff of Make-A-Wish’s audience persona journey. Chapters will play a significant role in the next step by participating in a content strategy training program organized by See3. We know that their insights will provide rich insights in understanding target audiences and help to make personas even more relevant on a chapter level. We’re looking forward to partnering with many Make-A-Wish chapters to help them take their content strategies to the next level.

Learn more: Create personas to bridge the gap with your target audiences

Thanks to See3 for sharing this case study. Concrete models like this one are priceless in showing what’s possible and how to get started. 

Nonprofit Branding News – Why the YMCA Is Now the Y

Addendum, 7/22/10: Here’s the YWCA’s response to the Y’s name change.

In case you haven’t heard, the YMCA is now the Y.  And believe it or not, the story is covered in the first section of today’s New York Times. Nonprofit marketing news doesn’t usually make the grade!

According to Kate Coleman, the Y’s chief marketing officer, this name change is motivated by the Y’s desire to use a name more closely matched with its mission and emphasizes the impact its programs have on youth, healthy living and communities.  This is definitely a critical focus to reflect in the Y’s branding but I’m not convinced that a single letter can do all that!

“It’s a way of being warmer, more genuine, more welcoming, when you call yourself what everyone else calls you,”  is the second reason for the change  Coleman cites. I don’t agree with that one either.

It is indeed important to know what your organization’s base thinks and what’s important to them. That’s the only way to identify the intersection of your organization’s needs and those of your base – the nexus of your brand. But that doesn’t mean your brand should be what your base is using as your name.

Already, the Y is set up to confuse audiences by asking that while affiliates should be referred to overall by the new name, a specific branch should be referred to the “South Mountain YMCA.” That’s a mess in the making.

I certainly understand the Y’s motivation to have its name more clearly reflect its current mission. That’s good marketing. And the same valid reasoning that moved the United Negro College Fund to change its name to UNCF – because it was serving more than students of a single race.

And the Y does a fantastic job of using the new brand to highlight what’s really important – its current programmatic focus.  No one cares that your branding is different but announcing your new focus is a great way to (implicitly) introduce your new brand. Take a look at this webcast of the Y’s press conference on the change.

But I envision the Y will face some real challenges with this name change, including:

  • What about the YWCA?
  • And the YMHA/YWHA (the Jewish Y)? New York City’s affiliate is already known as the 92nd Street Y.
  • The name “Y” makes me ask “why not?”

What are your thoughts on this name change? Does it work? Should  a nonprofit’s name be whatever it’s called by its base? Please share your comments below. Thanks!